This past May, The Trustees of Reservations kicked off its 125th anniversary with a black-tie gala at Appleton Farms in Ipswich. The glamorous evening was particularly poignant because my now-deceased father, Gordon Abbott Jr., had been executive director of The Trustees from 1966 to 1984, devoting much of his career to essentially fulfilling the mission of landscape architect Charles Eliot, who in 1891 founded the nation’s (and world’s) first land preservation nonprofit “for the purposes of acquiring, holding, maintaining, and opening to the public…beautiful and historic places…within the Commonwealth.” Having apprenticed in the office of his mentor, Frederick Law Olmsted, recognized as the founder of American landscape architecture and the nation’s foremost creator of parks, Eliot had become increasingly bothered by a rapidly industrializing Boston and felt the need to protect open spaces for the city’s urban population, similar to the green spaces he knew existed in London and Paris. Now, 125 years later, Eliot’s creation, The Trustees, protects, runs, and manages 116 “special places” throughout Massachusetts, including 20 on the North Shore.
Crane Wildlife Refuge
Photo by F. Siteman
As my mother, Katharine Stanley-Brown Abbott, sat at the gala with her extended family, she heard along with us how much The Trustees had accomplished to date. And as we all sat in the glow of votives, savoring Appleton Farms’ meats, cheeses, and vegetables, we felt a grand swell of pride for all that my father had done during his tenure.
I must admit, when I was a young girl, I appreciated what my father did, but not in the way I do now. Each workday morning he would head off to strange-sounding places, like The Old Manse in Concord (once home to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne), Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge on Nantucket (a windswept haven for wildlife), and the ominous-sounding (but gorgeous) World’s End in Hingham, the first property my father acquired for The Trustees. On any given day, my father might drive out to the Berkshires and back or fly to Martha’s Vineyard, where he eventually acquired Wasque, nearly 1,000 acres of trails, a beach, and a wildlife refuge on Chappaquiddick. Occasionally, my father strapped a canoe to his car and drove to Mashpee—“to work!” my siblings and I told our schoolmates, howling with laughter. Little did we know my father was working to acquire even more land for the Mashpee River Reservation, which The Trustees received in 1979 (more land arrived in 1998).
Photo by R. Cheek
But it was the properties along the North Shore that I came to know the best, mainly because I grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Work and play seamlessly melded together on weekends for my father, who used to visit The Trustees’ properties for pleasure. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, my father, an avid sailor who served in the Navy, cruised around Misery Islands in Salem Sound, Crowninshield Island in Marblehead, and Rockport’s Halibut Point Reservation, carpeted with bayberry and shadbush. Come fall, we hiked around the hilly woods of Mount Ann Park in Gloucester. When the temperature dropped, we skated on the black-ice ponds of Rocky Woods in Medfield and cross-country skied around Notchview in Windsor. One December my father even snapped a Christmas picture of me and my three siblings posing against Agassiz Rock in Manchester.
But one of my fondest childhood memories of The Trustees occurred one fall afternoon when I was about 11. My younger sister and I accompanied our father to tea in Ipswich with Mr. and Mrs. Appleton of Appleton Farms, the country’s oldest continuously operating farm. After walking around the leaf-strewn property and visiting the couple’s dairy cows, the five of us retired to the Appletons’ parlor for tea and fruitcake (I have always loved fruitcake). While my father and the Appletons talked business, my sister and I sat by the cozy fire petting the family dogs. For me, it was an afternoon of making memories of a special time spent with my father and a gracious older couple. For my father, it was a chance to forge an even deeper friendship with the Appletons, who gave their farm to The Trustees upon the death of Mr. Appleton in 1974. More land was deeded in 1998, and now Appleton Farms grows vegetables for community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, sells the farm’s grass-fed beef, eggs, milk, and handcrafted fresh and aged cheeses in the Dairy & Farm Store, and offers cooking classes, workshops, farm dinners, and year-round events, including kids’ summer camps and vacation programs.
Photo courtesy of The Trustees
Although my father was the first person to create membership for The Trustees, I did not join the organization until last year. What sparked the change was getting a dog a month before my father died. My husband and I were searching for places to take our tiny white Coton de Tulear puppy, BiBi, for a walk where she could prance off-leash in a beautiful, uncrowded environment without lots of big, scary dogs. One morning, driving around Dover, I stumbled upon Chase Woodlands, a network of nearly 2 miles of serene forest trails thick with white pine, hemlock, and yellow birch. Soon after, we discovered Dover’s Noanet Woodlands, home to nearly 20 miles of woodland paths and a stunning view of Boston’s skyline from the top of Noanet Peak. Suddenly, all those strange-sounding places my father had visited on behalf of The Trustees came alive in a whole new way. So last summer, prior to taking BiBi for a walk around World’s End, my husband and I gave the ranger our credit card and became members.
Noanet Park in Dover
Photo by R. Cheek
“Our mission has never been more important, as our lives become increasingly digitized and fragmented,” says Barbara Erickson, The Trustees’ current and first female president and CEO. “Like Charles Eliot, we want to inspire more people—especially families with children, our future conservationists—to find rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation in our special places, to learn about our local and national history, to connect to arts and culture, and to form a deeper appreciation for conservation, preservation, nature, local food and farming, and healthy, active lifestyles.” To forward these goals, Erickson plans to increase the 4,200-plus walks, talks, cooking programs, classes, guided tours, and activities that The Trustees hosts and presents annually on its statewide properties, as well as at the KITCHEN at Boston Public Market. She also wants to expand the Art & the Landscape initiative launched this past summer, consisting of two Pedro Alonzo–curated outdoor art installations, one featuring artist Sam Durant at The Old Manse in Concord and the other featuring artist Jeppe Hein at World’s End. On a broader scale, she continues to seek opportunities to care for and protect existing properties, as well as more critical urban, suburban, rural, and coastal lands, such as those with fragile ecosystems in peril due to the impacts of climate change.
The Crane Estate
Photo courtesy of The Trustees
As for the North Shore, Erickson says The Trustees is working to acquire a critical 20.5-acre parcel of land on Steep Hill Beach adjacent to its Castle Hill property on the Crane Estate. If left unprotected, the area could be developed, with one or more private homes embedded in Castle Hill, likely compromising the view, increasing traffic, and threatening the important ecological habitat and coastline at this iconic National Historic Landmark. (Personally, I have always loved The Crane Estate at Castle Hill and nearly got married there, what with its sunken Italian garden, majestic lawn sweeping down to the sea, and Stuart-style Great House with 59 period rooms, and now the Inn at Castle Hill, which has 10 luxurious rooms.)
Photo by R. Cheek
As part of The Trustees’ 125th anniversary celebration, Erickson is waiving admission and parking fees on certain holidays at Trustees properties, like the Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, Crane Beach, Appleton Farms Grass Rides, and Weir Hill. All of these will be free and open to all Massachusetts residents on Columbus Day, free to veterans on Veterans Day, and free and open to all on “Green Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. Also, in commemoration of The Trustees’ 125th anniversary, the organization continues to promote its statewide Hike125, designed to get more people and families outdoors hiking together, with lots of prize giveaways for milestones reached. There are also family Bingo125 contests, booklet filled with ideas on “Things to Do Before You’re 12.5,” and other activities and promotions throughout the year.
For North Shore residents, says Erickson, “We also have some great new family fun programs coming up: Appleton Farms is launching a new ‘Down on the Farm’ Concert Series on Sunday afternoons (4–8 p.m.) in October; Castle Hill is presenting the first ever “Ghost of Castle Hill” Halloween Party on Saturday, October 29; Ravenswood is hosting a “Fairy Festival” on Saturday, November 5; and The Stevens-Coolidge Place in Andover is hosting a “Pumpkin Trail” Halloween event on Friday and Saturday, October 28 and 29, and an “Endless Summer Picnic Concert” on Wednesday, September 28.”
Photo by R. Cheek
I know my father would be extremely proud of how much The Trustees has grown and done since his tenure. In fact, he was so committed to The Trustees that even after he’d retired, he wrote Saving Special Places: A Centennial History of The Trustees of Reservations, Pioneer of the Land Trust Movement. And even though I always thought of The Trustees as “Dad’s thing,” now that I’ve found a way to connect with the organization on my own, it’s my thing too. My husband and I recently stayed at The Guest House at Field Farm in Williamstown, a 1948 Bauhaus-inspired house set on four miles of trails that meander past gardens, sculptures, and fields. We’ve walked BiBi around the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester-by-the-Sea and around the Charles River Peninsula in Needham. But there is so much more to see and do. I want to take a cooking class at Powisset Farm in Dover, stay in one of the recently refurbished guest rooms at The Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, and, above all, visit all those protected properties that my father talked about and helped save that I’ve yet to see.
The Trustees of Reservations